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Presuppositions—1

“No Indian text comes without a context”

No Indian text comes without a context, a frame, till the 19th century. Works are framed by phalaśruti verses—these verses tell the reader, reciter or listener all the good that will result from his act of reading, reciting or listening. They relate the text, of whatever antiquity, to the present reader—that is, they contextualise it. […] Texts may be historically dateless, anonymous; but their contexts, uses, efficacies, are explicit. The Rāmāyaṇa and Mahābhārata open with episodes that tell you why and under what circumstances they were composed. Every such story is encased in a metastory. And within the text, one tale is the context for another within it; not only does the outer framestory motivate the inner sub-story; the inner story illuminates the outer as well. It often acts as a microcosmic replica for the whole text. In the forest when the Pāṇḍava brothers are in exile, the eldest, Yudhiṣṭhira, is in the very slough of despondency: he has gambled away a kingdom, and is in exile. In the depth of his despair, a sage visits him and tells him the story of Nala. As the story unfolds, we see Nala too gamble away a kingdom, lose his wife, wander in the forest, and finally, win his wager, defeat his brother, reunite with his wife and return to his kingdom. Yudhiṣṭhira, following the full curve of Nala's adventures, sees that he is only halfway through his own, and sees his present in perspective, himself as a story yet to be finished. Very often the Nala story is excerpted and read by itself, but its poignancy is partly in its frame, its meaning for the hearer within the fiction and for the listener of the whole epic. The tale within is context-sensitive—getting its meaning from the tale without, and giving it further meanings.

Attipat K. Ramanujan, Is there an Indian way of thinking? An informal essay, in McKim Marriott, Ed., India Through Hindu Categories, New Delhi: Sage, 1990, pp. 42-58.

Our surmise is that Ramanujan's statement would also turn true in many instances of non-Indian texts and of non-fiction. We would like to assume, without being able to prove it, the validity and fruitfulness of Ramanujan's approach to Narrativity and Indexicality as specific features and core values in Indian modes of thought—and in philosophical texts from India.

Far from disqualifying Indian philosophical literature from belonging to Philosophy as discipline, this assumption which gives a truth value to Narrativity and Indexicality forces us to work towards a reassessment of the discipline as it has been defined since Hegel and towards a dismantlement of the European philosophical citadel.